Bush Takes Potshots at Messenger

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the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Bush Takes Potshots at Messenger

WASHINGTON -- President Bush seems to believe the news media's coverage of the Iraq war is why many Americans fail to see that everything is coming up roses there.

That's an old ploy: "Kill the messenger who brings the bad news."

But it won't work. Dispatches from that violence-ridden nation tell a different story of gory killings, kidnappings, assassinations and massacres, with no place to hide.

What appears to be an incipient civil war between the Shiite and Sunni Muslim religious factions has the Pentagon and White House news spinners competing with the facts on the ground.

In a new round of speeches to bolster weakening U.S. support for the war and to give his sagging popularity polls a lift, Bush has been taking on the news media.

In Cleveland last week, he acknowledged that seeing violence on television screens every night might make people "wonder how I can remain optimistic about the prospect of success in Iraq."

But in the same speech, Bush said of Iraq: "The situation on the ground remains tense. And in the face of continued reports about killings and reprisals, I understand how some Americans have their confidence shaken."

The president said that progress being made in the city of Tal Afar, Iraq, such as people returning to normal life, children playing and shops opening, "is not easy to capture in a short clip on the evening news."

He also told a news conference last week that "for every act of violence there is encouraging progress in Iraq that's hard to capture on the evening news."

Vice President Dick Cheney, no stranger to that theme, complained on CBS-TV "Face the Nation" that "there's a constant sort of perception, if you will, that's created because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad."

Tough as it is for the news media to cover the conflict, the correspondents cannot ignore the insurgent attacks, the car bombings and kidnappings that are a way of life in Iraq today.

Some 86 members of the media have been killed in the 3-year-old war in Iraq, according to Reporters without Borders, an international, non-governmental organization dedicated to freedom of the press.

Reporters and photographers cover the war in Iraq at their peril. Those who are not embedded with military units, stay near their offices in the safe "Green Zone." As a consequence, media coverage often lacks the human interest stories about the war's impact on the people of Iraq.

Some conservatives have accused the mainstream press of a daily drumbeat that the United States is losing the war. Others say the negative press is undermining a war that is being won.

During the Vietnam era, the Johnson and Nixon administrations certainly tried to accentuate the positive at home and frequently criticized news coverage of the war. So the Bush administration's efforts have rich precedents in recent U.S. history.

The administration had a free ride with the news media and Congress in the run-up to the war, with few questions asked.

Many reporters were gung-ho to cover the invasion of Iraq after being told it would be a cakewalk.

Those were the "good news" days when the troops rolled into Baghdad, and the Iraqi army disappeared. Many of Saddam Hussein's vaunted Republican guard returned later as part of the insurgency.

Three years ago, news outlets and TV networks played ball, keeping gruesome photographs off television and meekly abiding by Pentagon rules that put military caskets off limits to reporters and cameras. But even as the U.S. news media now shows signs of recovering its courage, images or news stories won't decide the success or failure of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq.

That will be determined by whether the people of Iraq will show that they want to live with one another in peace, without outside interference.

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and columnist. She worked for the United Press International (UPI) for 57 years, first as a correspondent, and later as White House bureau chief. She was an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. Among other books she was the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. Helen passed away on July 20, 2013.

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